Letharia columbiana “Brown-eyed Wolf Lichen”

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

This species is closely related to the Wolf Lichen that completely coats Ponderosa Pines in our local Missoula valleys, but this species bears large brown-black fruiting bodies (apothecia) unlike its cousin. L. columbiana is definitely one of my favorite species and I was so excited to encounter a huge population of them alongside our more common L. vulpina here in the Rattlesnake. Like most lichen, we still know comparatively little about these organisms and their genetic relationships among one another. With genetic analyses ongoing, we will likely see a revision of our northwest Letharia species in the next decade.

Gymnosporangium globosum “Cedar-Hawthorn Rust” Basidiomycota

Missoula, MT
October 23, 2015
Robert Niese

I first noticed these strange tendrils on the underside of Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasi) at a city park a couple months ago, but only just got around to photographing them. I thought they might be some sort of aphid galls after noticing that the leaves were covered with the insects. But the truth, it turns out, is far more spectacular! This is actually the fall life-stage of a rust fungus that infects Cedars (and Junipers). The fungus overwinters on Cupressaceous conifers, producing a small gall that grows large, orange gelatinous horns after spring rains. These jelly tentacles release spores that then infect the leaves of Rosaceous trees and shrubs such as Crataegus, Malus, and Sorbus. By late summer, fungi on these Rosaceous hosts produce the large porcupine-like clump of tendrils seen here. These tendrils release more spores that continue the cycle anew! I’m in love. What a phenomenal fungus!

Nodobryoria abbreviata

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of Bryoria-like lichen is particularly common east of the Cascades in dry Ponderosa Pine and Larch forests. It can be easily distinguished from other Bryoria-like species by its large, prominent apothecia (reproductive discs) which are almost always present in mature specimens. This species is often found alongside Cetraria, Usnea, Vulpicida, Letharia, and Hypogymnia here in western Montana.

Cetraria (Kaernefeltia) merrillii “Flattened Thornbush Lichen”
with Nodobryoria abbreviata

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

These metallic, often iridescent black lichen are extremely common on small twigs alongside Vulpicida canadensis here in our PNW Ponderosa Pine forests. They can be found throughout the Rocky Mountains, Sierras, Cascades, and some mountainous regions of central Spain. Their black color comes from a yet identified pigment. The stringy lichen in this image is Nodobryoria abbreviata, a Bryoria-like lichen with prominent apothecia (reproductive discs). I’ve found this species to be particularly common alongside Cetraria, Vulpicida, Letharia, and Hypogymnia on Pinus twigs here in western Montana.

Cetraria (Kaernefeltia) merrillii “Flattened Thornbush Lichen”
and Vulpicida canadensis “Canadian Foxkiller/Brown-eyed Sunshine Lichen”

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
April 23, 2015
Robert Niese

 

These metallic, often iridescent black lichen are extremely common on small twigs alongside Vulpicida canadensis here in our PNW Ponderosa Pine forests. They can be found throughout the Rocky Mountains, Sierras, Cascades, and some mountainous regions of central Spain. Their black color comes from a yet identified pigment.

Vulpicida canadensis “Canadian Fox Killer/Brown-eyed Sunshine Lichen”

Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor (BLM), MT
April 23, 2014
Robert Niese

 

Members of the genus Vulpicida, like Wolf Lichen in the genus Letharia, contain usnic acid and vulpinic acid which gives them their characteristic neon yellow color. Also like Letharia, members of Vulpicida are also somewhat toxic and are associated with some Icelandic and Scandinavian folk tales where they’re used to kill foxes. This species is quite common in our PNW Ponderosa Pinelands and is normally found on small twigs alongside the metallic black lichen, Cetraria merrillii.

Letharia vulpina “Wolf Lichen” on
Pinus ponderosa “Ponderosa Pine” Pinaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

Wolf lichen is a striking, extremely abundant lichen in our dry Ponderosa Pinelands here in the PNW. It’s electric yellow-green color comes from a compound produced by the fungus known as vulpinic acid. It is relatively toxic and in ancient Europe concentrated vulpinic acid was traditionally used as a poison for killing wolves (hence it’s common name). Here in the PNW, however, native peoples use the lichen as a dye for fabrics and baskets. You can learn how to make your own dyes from lichens like Letharia here.

Mushroom, Letharia, and Linnaea

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

 

Mushrooms are those sorts of organisms that are hopeless to identify without taking samples back home to reference later. This little guy was just too perfectly placed for me to have the heart to pick it. Again, late summer in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake has proven to be excellent for mushroom hunting!

Suillus grevillei “Greville’s Suillus Bolete” Basidiomycota

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

 

Here’s another species of bolete in the easily recognizable Suillus genus that grows in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake. Again, this species of Suillus is an ectomycorrhizal symbiont with Larch. (I should note that not all members of this genus are associated with Larch, but when you’re hunting for mushrooms in a Larch forest, you tend to find Larch symbionts). This species, unlike the others I’ve posted so far, has a slimy or viscid cap. This slime is known to cause gastrointestinal problems for those adventurous enough to attempt to eat these fungi, so be sure to remove the outer layer prior to preparation. Unfortunately, Greville’s Bolete is said to have no flavor and a generally mushy consistency when cooked, so I just wouldn’t recommend it.

Suillus cavipes “Hollow-stemmed Suillus Bolete” Basidiomycota

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Here’s another bolete from my late summer mushroom-hunting extravaganza in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake. This species, another easily-recognizable bolete in the genus Suillus, is also an ectomycorrhizal symbiont with larch trees (Larix). This species has a dry, very scaly cap that tends to be dark brown in color. Like other members of this genus, it also has angular pores that appear to radiate from the stipe. The best way to confirm the identification of this species, however, is to cut open its stipe and verify that it’s hollow. Unlike other members of this genus, S. cavipes is far more palatable and has a pleasant earthy taste when dried, but, like other Suillus boletes, tends to be slimy when cooked. Here, S. cavipes is growing among Twin-flower (Linnaea borealis), Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Prince’s Pine (Chimaphila umbellata), and, of course, Western Larch (Larix occidentalis).